Husker volleyball survives early scare to defeat Dayton

By John Schreier

Just minutes before their Thursday night match, Nebraska’s Hannah Werth dashed under the net and handed her miniature souvenir volleyball to Dayton setter and former Husker Jessica Yanz. Fans in the sold-out Coliseum roared in approval.

After the game, Yanz was showered with compliments.

“Jess is just a great player in general,” sophomore setter Lauren Cook said. “Her hands are butter. I’m jealous of her hands.”

But the festive mirth of the pregame gesture quickly disappeared when Nebraska U. dropped the first game to a scrappy Dayton squad.

But the rowdy applause quickly returned. It rocked the ancient bricks of the Coliseum for the final three sets as the No. 7 Huskers celebrated their 2010 home opener with a four-set win against 20th-ranked Dayton to kick off the Ameritas Players Challenge.

The Huskers rattled off six consecutive points early in the first set and stretched their lead to 19-12, but then the Flyers struck.

“I thought we started great,” NU coach John Cook said. “We were up by five or six points and just stopped playing. And it was all pretty much serving and passing.”

Dayton rallied to tie the game at 22-22 before notching four of the final five points to complete the stunning rally and claim the first game 26-24, prolonging the Huskers’ first-set blues. NU has lost three first sets in just seven matches this fall.

“It’s like wildfire spreads — errors spread,” John Cook said. “We’ve got to have some players that can understand and stop that.”

Dayton also stormed out an early lead in the second set, but the Huskers clawed back to claim their first lead of the set until grabbing a 14-13 edge.

The Huskers then ignited a rally worthy of the seventh-ranked squad in the nation.

Nebraska captured eight of the next nine points to stretch that lead to 22-14. Dayton saved three set points and whittled the NU lead down to 24-20, but a UD service error doomed the Flyers and handed the Huskers the second set, 25-20.

“Every team has to deal with those ups and downs,” NU senior Tara Mueller said. “It’s just how you deal with it, and we’re still working on it, so it might seem a little crazy right now.”

The Huskers cruised through the third game by nabbing nine of the first 12 points. When UD cut the lead to 13-10, the Huskers ran their lead to 21-12. NU put the third set to bed without much fuss, 25-16.

The fourth game followed suit, as NU blasted its way from a 5-5 tie to a 12-6 lead and didn’t look back.

When Dayton made a late charge to cut Nebraska’s lead to four, the Huskers didn’t panic. They buried the last four points to emerge with the 25-17 victory.

“Good teams put the hammer down and keep it on, make teams earn side outs,” John Cook said. “You look at those scores and go, ‘Pretty nice match those last three games.’ I know where we have to be, and we’re not there.”

Mueller, Brooke Delano and Lindsey Licht each produced 13 kills on the night, and Delano was dominant with a hitting percentage of .706. Yanz made 35 assists, but her Flyer teammates hit at a .109 clip.

After having Yanz on the other side of the net, things don’t get any friendlier from here for Nebraska.

The Huskers face brutal matches against Western Michigan and No. 3 Illinois, a talented team that stunningly swept then-No. 2 Texas last weekend.

“It is hard, not going to lie, to go back-to-back,” Mueller said. “That’s going to be another test for us, if we can come out tomorrow and start off definitely stronger than we did tonight.”

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